Just four months into its journey, New Zealand’s first charity mobile dental clinic has already given more than 400 disadvantaged patients new reasons to smile, with free dental procedures.
The mobile dental clinic saw its first patient in mid-November in Kaeo, Northland, and by late January had treated 304 patients from around the Far North. Since then it has driven into the Waikato, and is currently located at the city’s migrant resource centre working predominantly with refugees, and helping dozens of people each week with dental care. It plans to visit Ngaruawahia and other high need areas in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty over coming months.
Dr Assil Russell is the driving force behind the mobile clinic. It is an extension of her dental charity, Revive a Smile, which she set up in 2012 with the goal of improving oral health for Kiwis who need a helping hand.
The mobile clinic was made possible through a strategic partnership and financial backing from the Southern Cross Health Trust, which shares her vision of enabling better access to dental care for disadvantaged New Zealanders.
“Creating the mobile clinic has been a dream of mine for a number of years,” says Dr Russell. “Dental treatment is out of reach for a lot of Kiwis and while Revive a Smile has been providing charitable treatment in the Waikato for a number of years I have always wanted to take our work on the road.
“The people I want to reach with this mobile clinic are those that are falling through the cracks. There are a lot of people living with significant oral pain and discomfort throughout New Zealand, and with this clinic I want to remove a barrier to access and bring dental treatment to them,” says Dr Russell.
Recent research by the Southern Cross Health Trust found 72% of Kiwis don’t go to the dentist annually because of the cost, and that 40% of New Zealanders are dissatisfied with their teeth. Of those unhappy with their teeth:
Since November Dr Russell has performed hundreds of procedures including comprehensive oral exams with x-rays, fillings, extractions, gum treatments and dentures. In Northland, many patients who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to treatment were referred to the charity clinic from local health service providers. Prospective patients have also been able to apply for appointments via the charity’s website.
“Already we’ve been very busy seeing a lot of people who haven’t been to the dentist for a very long time. One person hadn’t seen a dentist in over 50 years.”
To be eligible for treatment patients need to have a valid community services card and to get in touch through the charity’s website www.nzdentalcharity.org or the Revive a Smile Facebook page.
Each eligible person is given a one hour appointment for multiple dental treatments ranging from fillings, restorations and extractions, to fluoride applications and pain relief. Patients also receive oral health education.